Do We All Have Sociopathic Qualities?

Today is Wednesday, March 12, 2014.man-looking-in-mirror

Many people would be scared if they saw in the mirror, not their faces, but their character.      –Anonymous

I just finished reading Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.  (If you haven’t read it, this post contains a spoiler, so be advised.)  The main characters in the book are a couple named Amy and Nick Dunne.  For about half the book I thought Amy was just an inordinately vicious, spoiled rich girl, and Nick was a likeable jerk.  By the time I was done, I was convinced that Amy was a full-fledged sociopath or psychopath, and Nick was her enabler.  When I finished the book, I looked up the definition of sociopath, just to be sure.

The dictionary says a sociopath is a “person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.”  The main symptom of psychosis, in general, is a loss of contact with shared reality, manifested as a belief about who and what kind of person you are, and beliefs about what is going on around you that are not shared with the rest of the population (or, at least, some subgroup of the population.)   Sociopaths are charming.  People love to be in their orbit.  They often do spontaneous things that ordinary people would never attempt. They seek to dominate other people, and “win” at all costs.  They tend to be highly intelligent, but they seem incapable of true love for others, because whatever happens, it’s all about them. They see no wrong in hurting a “loved one” in order to achieve their aims.  They are often very good at expressing themselves and are expert storytellers.  They do not seem to recognize basic concepts of right and wrong, and they never apologize or accept personal responsibility for anything that goes wrong.  They will, however, accept all the credit for anything that goes well.  They can lie outrageously about their experiences, and believe that what they say is true.

Amy is antisocial, since the only “friends” in her life are people she can control and use for her own ends.  Ultimately, even her husband is only useful to her as a peon who exists to flatter her and do her bidding.  Anyone who angers her in even the smallest way becomes the object of vicious, exacting revenge.  Getting someone expelled from school, framing a person for rape or murder, even killing someone is perfectly acceptable to Amy, as long as it achieves the desired end.  Amy’s parents, who are at some level responsible for her personality traits, also become victims of her rage and revenge mentality.

In some ways, Nick could also be called a sociopath, in that he also tends to value people who can flatter and be of use to him.  In the story, Nick realizes that his own father has these qualities, as well, in that he does not value women, and he seems to have a hair-trigger temper when it comes to getting his own way.  The difference, though, is that Nick does seem to distinguish between right and wrong.  He sees his father’s personality pattern in himself, and he catches himself, again and again, before he does something unacceptable that his father would have done.  In short, Nick knows that he has shortcomings, and he strives to contain them and rise above them.  He ends up staying with his wife, because he realizes that she is pregnant, and that he will need to protect his child from its own mother.

To some degree, we all have certain unfortunate qualities that we are unable or unwilling to admit to ourselves, and most of us have been guilty of framing our memory of at least one situation in terms that are perhaps more favorable to us that others would allow.  That doesn’t make most of us sociopaths, however, because we are ultimately capable of recognizing our own negative qualities and learning to rise above them.  We are capable of recognizing and accepting our own personal responsibility for negative outcomes.  We are capable of realizing that our decisions or actions have caused harm to other people, to the dynamic of a group, or to the natural environment.

In order to be one of those people who might be scared when we look in the mirror and see our character, we actually have to be normal, and not psychopathic or sociopathic.  In other words, in order to be frightened of what we see, we have to recognize that it is a negative quality we are seeing, and that any thoughts, words, or actions based on or resulting from that quality will be negative, and therefore harmful in some way.

At one time in history, it was thought that there was nothing we could do about the cards we were dealt, but now we know that we can make changes in ourselves.  We can literally reprogram our subconscious minds, replacing negative beliefs with positive ones, and we can acquire positive qualities as we rise above negative ones.  If you take an honest look at yourself and don’t like what you see, take comfort from the fact that who you are is not set in stone. Rather, it is changeable, and you are the only one who can initiate the changes.  You can re-invent yourself.  Anything is possible.  🙂

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